There’s been a lot of speculation in the media and in the blogosphere about the origins of the New York Times story on Senator John McCain’s murky relationship with lobbyist Vicki Iseman. According to a piece published today in The New Republic, “The McCain investigation began in November,” when Jim Rutenberg, a Times reporter, “got a tip.” What hasn’t been reported, though, is that long before the Times published its account a competing publication spent extensive time trying to track down the nature of the relationship but decided against publishing a story.
Several sources told me that Edward Pound, one of the best investigative journalists in the business, was the first reporter to look into McCain’s potential involvement with Iseman. Pound, now at National Journal, was at U.S. News & World Report in early 2007 when he began work on a story about McCain’s record in Congress.
Pound’s detailed story, which ran in the May 20, 2007 issue said that despite positioning himself “as a die-hard opponent of special-interest influence,” McCain had been “an avid seeker of special-interest money to support his campaigns and initiatives” throughout his 25-year career in Congress. “The pattern goes all the way back to his first House race in 1982,” the magazine reported. “Moreover, as the boss or No. 2 member of the Senate Commerce Committee, he has drawn heavy support from PACs and individuals associated with industries overseen by that committee—especially telecommunications, media, and technology firms.”
Pound, I’m told, spent months working on the story and heard allegations that McCain and Iseman were romantically involved. I called Pound to ask about this and he preferred not to discuss it other than to say, “As part of a story on McCain’s ties to lobbyists and special interests, I looked into McCain’s relationship with Vicki Iseman. In the end I decided not to include that in the story.”
So how did the story get to the Times some months later? I’m not sure, but the fact that Pound had started looking into the matter as far back as early last year suggests two things: First, that the origin of the Times’s piece was not a plant by one of McCain’s presidential opponents, even if some of them became aware that the Times was working on the story, and second, that firm evidence of a romance would have been very hard to come by.